DuBOIS — After claiming its first District 9 title since 2014, Elk Country Catholic returns to the PIAA state tournament where it will take on WPIAL third place finisher Vincentian Academy in the first round Monday.
The game will be played at Showers Field at 5:30 p.m.
The Royals return to the state playoffs for the third time in four years, as they won a pair of Class A state titles during that stretch in 2016 and they are also the defending state champs.
The Crusaders reached the PIAA tournament after a dominant 12-2 victory in five innings over Otto-Eldred in the District 9 title game Thursday.
Vincentian Academy (13-4) secured a walk-off victory over Quigley Catholic in the District 7 consolation game Wednesday to earn a spot in the state tourney.
In 2014 when it won its last D-9 title, Elk County Catholic (15-8) made a run all the way to the Class A state title game where it was defeated 2-1 in nine innings by District 1 champ Devon Prep.
The Crusaders’ last appearance in the PIAA tournament was in 2017 as the D-9 third place team.
That year ECC won its first game, upsetting WPIAL champ Jeannette 7-4 before losing to D-9 foe Clarion 3-0 in the quarterfinals as the Bobcats went on to finish as the state runner-up.
While the Royals return a few contributors from last season’s state champion team, they are without nine seniors from that squad including a handful of their leaders at the plate and their two aces on the mound.
Last season senior Kyler Fedko led Vincentian at the plate with a .661 batting average, eight home runs, 14 doubles and five triples while driving in 40 runs and scoring 46.
Seniors Aidan Thompson, Nathan Christian and Mark Yakim were also key factors in the offensive arsenal for the Royals that averaged nearly 10 runs per game on the way to a 20-4 record and a state title.
On the mound, Stephen Turzai was Vincentian’s ace last season, finishing the year 9-0 with a 1.04 ERA and just eight earned runs allowed over 53 2/3 innings.
While the Royals graduated a large senior class last season, they still return six seniors this year including Dan Morgano who is a leader at the plate and on the mound.
On the mound this season, Morgano is 4-0 with a 2.20 ERA and has struck out 43 over 28 2/3 innings of work.
Morgano is also a leader at the plate for Vincentian as he his hitting .453 with 21 RBIs and 11 runs scored.
Other leaders at the plate for the Royals are senior James Lutz (.511 avg.), junior Sam Basso (.422 avg.), junior Jared Katz (.419 avg.) and junior Eric Ford (.415 avg.).
On the other side, the Crusaders are led by nine seniors as the entire starting lineup for ECC consists of juniors and seniors.
While they are an experienced team, only two players on ECC’s current lineup, both starters, have experience in the PIAA playoffs.
Two years ago when the Crusaders made the quarterfinals of the state playoffs, current senior Alec Wehler started both games and also had a home run to help power the team to the first-round win over Jeannette.
The lone other player on the current squad to have played in those state playoffs was Brennen Klawuhn, who is now the starting catcher, as he came in as a defensive replacement in the loss to Clarion.
Wehler is one of the leaders for the Crusaders this season at the plate as the shortstop is near the top in most offensive categories for the team.
The senior is batting .344 on the year, second best among hitters with at least 10 plate appearances, while he leads the team with 22 hits and 15 RBIs and is second with 16 runs scored.
Junior Taylor Boland leads the team with a .353 batting average as he is tied for second with 14 RBIs.
Senior Hunter Cashmer as well as juniors Tylor Herzing and Will Uberti also have double digit runs batted in, while Herzing leads the team with 18 runs scored.
On the mound, Cashmer has been big for ECC as of late, as he is 5-3 on the year with a 2.20 ERA and secured the win in the Crusaders’ district title win over Otto-Eldred.
Cashmer has struck out 47 over 51 innings of work while allowing 16 earned runs.
Brady Schneider and Boland are also key factors in the Crusaders’ pitching arsenal this season.
The winner of Monday’s game will advance to Thursday’s quarterfinal round to take on the winner of a contest between District 6 champion Bishop McCort and WPIAL runner-up Union.